How Much Do Macronutrients Matter? [Podcast Episode #043]

You've likely heard people talk about their "macros" before. Did you understand what they were talking about? (Did THEY even understand what they were talking about?!)

Macronutrients (a.k.a. "macros") are the basis of every food we eat - carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the main building blocks of food. How much of each macronutrient should you be eating? Could a small tweak in your macronutrient rations make a huge difference in the results you see?...

Episode Resources:

How Much Do Macronutrients Matter? [Full Text]

Dave: Hey, thanks so much for joining me in this episode of the Make Your Body Work podcast. As you know, this show is all about helping you live a healthier, happier life. Today we're going to be talking about nutrition. Got an awesome guest today who's going to give us some really great insights specifically on the topic of macro-nutrients.

If that's a new word for you, or maybe you're not exactly sure what that means, stay tuned because we are going to dive into what they are and why they're important. The reason we're talking about this today is all because of a question that I got from Amy. Let's start off by hearing what Amy wrote in.

Amy said, "Dave, I've read a lot about macro-nutrients and I've heard you and some of your guests mention them as well. For weight loss, what do you recommend? I've tried higher protein lower carb diets and got some results. But, it seems to have me stuck in a plateau right now. Any suggestions? In case it makes a difference, I just turned thirty-seven." Smiley face.

Amy, thanks so much for writing in and thank you for the smiley face. I appreciate that. Like I said, we're going to be talking about nutrition and focusing a fair a bit on macro-nutrients and how they can impact the results that you're getting. It is important, something that we can take a look at if you're stuck in a planet, like Amy mentioned, there has to be something that's going to create that change or get us out of the planet. The idea, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, it just doesn't even make sense.

Amy, thanks for looking for answers. That's something that I'd really like to encourage all the listeners out there. If you're looking for change you need to look for that impetisive change. What is it that's going to spark that change in your life? Maybe today's talk is going to be one that inspires you to take a look at your diet and think about maybe this macro-nutrient idea, or these ratios, this is something that I can use.

I'd like to introduce my guest today, Heather Blackman. She's a personal trainer, she's a triathlete, she's a running coach, she does it all. She's an expert in macro-nutrients, that's why I brought her on the show. She's got some really great insights to share so let's meet Heather.

Meet Heather Blackman

Hey, Heather, thanks so much for joining us today!

Heather: Yes, thanks for having me I'm glad to be here.

Dave: I'm glad to have you. I was taking a look at your website and as I was going through there was one thing that really popped out to me was that fact that you're a triathlon coach and for anyone that's listening to my show they know I'm a newbie triathlete. So maybe when we're done you can give me some tips.

Heather: Absolutely! I could talk about triathlon, and running, and nutrition pretty much all day so I'm always happy to share tips.

Dave: Good, well I'm a very amateur swimmer so we'll chat about that afterwards. You know, there was another quote that I read on your website that was really cool and sort of made me excited to have you on the show because I think this will resonate a lot with my listeners and this really sticks with the mantra that I use. You talked about how there's really no one best way to get fit.

Heather: Absolutely. I'm glad that that resonated with you. It's something that I feel so important. So many of us really feel that they've been told, or they heard, that this one thing that if they would do that they would feel that they were actually making progress in their fitness. Unfortunately, if it's not something you enjoy you're not going to stick with it.

I think that's why so many people dread workouts or it just never really sticks because they tried that thing they thought they were supposed to do. You really need to find what you actually enjoy and that's what helps to make fitness just part of your lifestyle, and it enhances your life as opposed to being something that you just kind of have to do. That's not a fun way to have to go through life.

Dave: The other thing that I thought was just so powerful about what you said online there was the fact that sometimes when people think there's that magic bullet and they see someone else having huge success doing X,Y, or Zed and then they try for themselves and it isn't the solution for them, it's such a sense of failure and so demotivating.

Heather: Yeah, you're right because what works for one person doesn't always work for the other. That's a great point and it can be very frustrating then when you don't see those results that you really expected.

What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. Find the right balance for YOU

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Dave: Well, this Segways so cleanly into our question today. Amy wrote in and she basically was talking about macro-nutrients and she said she had heard some talk in this podcast and read elsewhere about macro-nutrients and she's looking to lose weight. She said she's thirty-seven years old and she kind of is looking for that magic pill. What's the perfect ratio of macro-nutrients or what should I be looking for?

When you read that what was your first thought?

Heather: It's a really common question and it's a really normal question to ask because as soon as you start to hear about macros and tracking that and really having that be an effective way to get the body that you want then your first reaction is always going to be, well what do I need to do? Just tell me what to do and I'll follow it.

Unfortunately, as soon as I heard that I went oh geez, there's not really a perfect split for anyone. It's really determining what fits for your body type, for your activity level, for what your goals are, then it's dialing in on something that's going to be customized for a person that's going to be most effective. It's a tricky question to answer.

What are Macronutrients?

Dave: Maybe we can start off and just back up a little bit and talk about what macros are and the importance, or why people even track them in the first place.

Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Macro-nutrients are ... Everyone calls them macros I think very often as we hear them; are basically just nutrients that your body requires in large amounts. There's really three that we talk about as we address macros and that's just carbohydrates, fats and protein.

None of those are bad, they're all very important parts of what your body needs to run effectively. It's just dialing in the amount of each of those that very often helps you to either improve your performance or maybe adjust your body composition to meet your goals.

Dave: I like the fact when you described the three of them there you said, "And none of them are bad. They're all good, they're all necessary." Because as soon as you hear that list; fats, carbohydrates and protein, I'd say two out of those three have really been targeted as quote-on-quote "bad".

Heather: Absolutely and depending on who I talk to it's usually those fats or carbs that people have been told are terrible and I really need to avoid eating those. Which can really lead to some bad habits and it is often very detrimental to what you're trying to achieve if you limit any of those things to an extreme because, again, they're all essential nutrients for your body.

Macronutrient Myths

Dave: Maybe let's start with the fats and carbs then because those are the two that get targeted as having a negative impact, potentially, on someone's body, particularly for weight loss. Why is that those two get the bad wrap?

Heather: I think there was a trend, and I want to say it probably started about fifteen, maybe even twenty, years ago. Where for a while low-fat was obviously the way that everyone needed to eat in order to be healthy. I don't know if it was publicized just through media or just bad science at the time, but I think that just became a common mantra so you saw low-fat foods.

Everybody wanted to avoid fat to gain fat. The more that I think people have learned about it the more that they realize that's really not the case. In fact, I often will prescribe a higher fat split in people's diets depending on their goals which can actually help in certain cases. I think that's where that really came into play.

Then carbohydrates I think with the Atkins diet, and South Beach diet, really specific diets for a certain person that, again, became very popular in the media. People hear these things and they're trying really hard to find a solution that's going to be effective for them and it just became a popular approach.

Once again, I think just misinterpretation of exactly what people were trying to achieve in certain situations, but remembering that your brain needs carbohydrates to be able to function. Especially going through life you're going to need carbohydrates to function.

It's just finding the proportion or the amount that's going to be the most effective for your goals. Not over limiting any one of these is going to be most effective for most people. It's just dialing in exactly what those splits are is the tricky part.

Dave: Yeah, oh it sure is. The whole fat, in particular, I just had an email question for the podcast. We're doing a two for one here. The woman was asking about fat and basically said, "Hey, I've always learned that fats something I should be eating low-fat foods." She's talking about switching to low-fat 1% milk and doing all these things. She says, "I'm still not losing weight." Just like you said, the fat that we eat has function and it's not something that we should be scared of.

Heather: I think we just hear a lot of things and really being very critical of what you hear is an important skill I think for lots of areas of life. Definitely applying that to nutrition, making sure that you're seeking out experts and really looking into the science about who's opinion that you trust I think is a really smart solution to help overcome some of these myths.

There is a lot of information out there. Be critical about what you hear, read, and see. Does it make sense?

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Dave: Just when we talked about trends and you said bad science, it seems like everything goes in waves because you were right on. That low-fat is huge, I'd say sort of in the maybe late '80's even and throughout the '90's and then we're into the low-carb.

Amy wrote and she said, "I even tried a high protein lower carb diet. Got some results but it seems to have me stuck in a plateau." I feel like the next thing is just going to be, well protein has this problem. It's the only one that hasn't been hit out of the macros yet.

Heather: Although I have heard that from some people as well. I have also competed in body building competitions and the first thing a lot of people think is oh, you must just eat all protein all day. I'm sure that that's coming shortly up here to see why that is good or bad or whatever somebody has decided is the right approach there.

Dave: So your advice, just to the listeners, when that happens ... If that happens just think back to what you just heard here is the idea of read carefully, interpret what you read, and there's always going to be that new trend so just be careful.

Small Shifts, Big Changes

Going back to Amy's question and she says, "I'm trying to lose weight, what is the ratio I should be using?" What do you recommend for someone who's trying to lose weight? Where do they start?

Heather: It really depends on what your current eating habits look like. One of the first things I love to do with a client that I'm working with is try to understand what their current eating habits are and make small changes that are going to help them get closer to their goal.

I think what a lot of people do that makes it really hard to stick with healthy nutrition changes is maybe just go from eating an average American diet and jump straight into, I'm going to start tracking my macros, I'm going to track everything that goes into my mouth. That becomes a pretty big jump that we can do when we're really excited about it and when it's new, but it starts to get old and tedious pretty quickly.

Want to revamp your diet? Don't! Start steps lead to long-term success!

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Even small shifts and thinking about what you're eating and choosing higher nutrient dense foods, eating slowly and stopping at 80%. Even things like that are actually a great start. Just wanted to at least put a plug in there that you don't have to jump straight to counting every macro in order to really start to see results.

Once you start making some of those smaller shifts and you're getting more in the habit of paying attention and being conscious of what you're eating then starting to look at the percentages of what you're eating will then help to make even better results.

One thing that I suggest with people is, just picture a plate and filling that up with three-quarters of that plate being lots of vegetables, very leafy green vegetables, very colorful vegetables, having that be the majority of what you're looking at. Then having a good portion of that, maybe being the size of your palm, being some protein. Then some good healthy fats with each meal as well.

That then is a good shift. You've got some great carbs coming in from mostly veggies, some good lean proteins, and then a little bit of fats as well. All three of those, though, should be making up your plate and that is a great way to start making that progress.

Dave: One thing you said there that I think is really key is you were talking about the majority of you plate is vegetables. Then you said your carbohydrates come from your vegetables. Maybe you could talk a little bit about vegetables that are high or low in carbohydrates because I know when I've worked with clients before and we're trying to make that shift to nutrient dense foods, including a lot of vegetables, very often they'll say, "Okay, so we're doing a low-carb diet?"

Heather: Yes, absolutely. Really what I talk about, and I come from a precision nutrition training so that's kind of where my education comes from in this area. What we like to talk about is more of a carb controlled diet. The standard American diet does have significantly more carbs than what would be normal I think in other cultures.

All we're trying to do is shift that back to put it a little more in balance and make sure that you're getting more fruits and veggies than we're used to, and still having some of those starchy carbs, but not making that a huge focus of our plate. Just shifting what that balance looks like.

I like to look at your fruits and veggies, not necessarily from a how many carbs are in this, but almost as a picking up a good, big handful of leafy greens and another big handful of broccolis or asparagus or something like that. They're all going to have good carbohydrates in them, just going to be processed a little bit differently for kind of that every day, every meal situation.

Dave: I love that. Very clear that carbohydrates aren't bad and vegetables include carbohydrates. So if you're eating your vegetables you are not on a low-carb diet. Or fruits as well, not on a low-carb diet.

Heather: Absolutely. The ratio there, when I work with a client talking about how much of their fruits and veggies should be veggies versus fruits, again a lot of that just depends on what your goals are, too.

What Are the Best "Protein Foods"?

Dave: Maybe you can talk a little bit about protein foods because again, when you were giving this picture of your plate and you talked about the vegetables being the largest portion and then you said about a palm size of protein. Can you give some examples of foods? Because some people might say, "Well I don't know." What is a protein food?

Heather: Yeah, absolutely. If you look at my website you'll actually see for quite a while of several years ago I actually followed a plant-based diet. One of the first things I like to remind people is that protein does not just mean meats. Which I think is where most people's head go.

As you're starting to make sure that you're having protein in most of your meals people start to feel a little bit overwhelmed at times thinking wow, I don't think I can eat that much meat. Remember that protein is in almost all of our foods that we eat. You might be thinking of red meats, chicken, fish, eggs. From a vegetarian perspective, you can be looking at tofu, seitan, lots of plant-based options there as well.

Of course, there's also going to be protein in some of those green, leafy vegetables. Especially thinks like spinach. You'll find a lot in peas. You're going to get some, actually, in both sides of that plate. But really making sure you've got a good portion of protein dense foods, like those ones I just described, that's going to help to make sure you're getting all those nutrients you need.

Dave: I like that you brought up the point that other foods that we don't typically associate as being high protein foods do still have protein such as many vegetables. I'll see if I can find it, but I remember looking at a chart and it showed the ratio, or the density, of protein in some vegetables versus even animal products. Some vegetables are more protein dense based on weight but spinach for example, we're not going to eat a pound of spinach.

Heather: Right. My favorite little cartoon, I don't know if you've ever seen it, with a gorilla that says, "What do you think that vegetarians ..." Or something like that. "Herbivores aren't strong?" It's just a great reminder that, again, those perceptions that we have in our head are not always an accurate reflection of what really is in our foods.

Dave: Exactly. One other thing I wanted to ask you about is you mentioned the palm size of protein. If everyone who's listening right now, take a look at your palm. Think about, is that actually the size of protein that you're putting on your plate? What have you seen, Heather, in terms of portion sizes. Is that what people are actually using as a guide? Do you find that proteins have gotten too big, too small? What do you find?

Heather: I really think it depends on the person and what their background is and eating habits. For some people when we talk through that that's a much smaller portion then they've been eating. I think very commonly we talk about in kind of the American diet today everything has gotten bigger. Maybe you're eating a 24 oz steak for dinner, that's probably a little bit larger than your palm might be.

For some people that hasn't been a focus of their plate and they are a little bit out of balance in some of these nutrients. So that might be significantly larger than what they might be eating today. Definitely just depends.

I love using kind of that palm-sized shape because the size of my palm is different than the size of my husband's palm, for example. It really helps to teach that portion that is going to be relevant to you and not necessarily that portion that's going to be a one size fits all, which doesn't work quite as well.

There is no standard food portion. Make your portions relative to your body size and to your fitness goals.

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Dave: I 100% agree because typically you hear people talk about a deck of cards as being the portion size for proteins. That's a rule of thumb I've heard in the past. But you're right, your husband and yourself probably that same deck of card isn't going to be as satisfying in both cases.

Heather: Absolutely, and I think making it relative to you is going to help you to actually create a plan that's going to be effective for you and not necessarily somebody else.

Which "Fat Foods" Are Okay?

Dave: Maybe we can dive into the fats then. You gave some good examples of protein foods. What are some higher fat foods that are still very healthy and should be included in many of our meals? Can you give some examples?

Heather: Yeah, and it's funny a lot of the fats tend to have allergens in it. As we go through this list obviously if you're allergic to any of these items you're going to want to avoid them. Things like olive oil, nut butters ... I am a huge fan of almond butter, actually almost any nut butter I'm going to be a huge fan of. If you're allergic to nuts that one's not as good of an idea.

Different seeds are going to be good here... avocados. I probably have avocado at least once a day. It's one of my favorite fat sources, just delicious. Those are probably some of the most common ones that I include in my diet. There's so many to choose from and really finding ones that you enjoy is going to be a key here.

Dave: What about oils?

Heather: Oh, absolutely. Olive oil tends to be the one I look at the best. Avocado oil has been getting a lot of good press lately so that might be one to just consider look into. The ones I tend to stay away from are just more of the over-processed oils. I always try to find something that's just a little bit closer to its original source. Making sure that you're choosing things that have a flavor that you enjoy is also going to be the most important part of that.

Dave: Do you use coconut oil at all?

Heather: Oh I do, that's a great one I hadn't thought of but we do. I don't use it as much as I've heard some other people use it. I especially like that on a sweet potato, for example, add some great flavor. It's a great oil as well.

Dave: I had a guest on the show, Joanna Dominguez, in episode twenty-six. For the listeners, if you go to She talks about coconut oil it's like her thing. She uses it for cream, she uses it to cook with, she uses it for all kinds of stuff. That's become very popularized. It seems like the new big thing.

Heather: Absolutely. I don't know that there's anything wrong with that it's just not something I've used quite as much. Absolutely, I've a heard a lot of people ... And it's a really unique flavor so if you like that flavor it's something that you probably really enjoy and would use even more.

Finding Your Idea Macronutrient Ratio

Dave: Going back to the whole macro idea. Now we know what the different macros look like, and you talked about your plate and how you can make that into almost like a pie chart and divide up your plate. If someone wants to be a numbers person, and there are those people that just want to put it in a spreadsheet or have it in a chart, is there a ratio that you would recommend to start with?

Heather: This is such a hard question. I've been trying to figure out how to answer this for a little while. I will count my macros down to the ratio when I'm really trying to dial in my body composition.

Definitely if you're training for a physique competition or really just trying to dial things down, tracking it down to the grams really does help you to make sure that you're making that right choice. I don't know that I want to give a specific split because it is so dependent, but usually the things that I do is I'm going to have a little bit higher percentage of protein and I'm going to either have a higher percentage of fat or carbs.

You want to use those two as almost the levers. When you're eating a little bit more carbs you want your fat to be lower and if you're eating a little bit more fat you want your carbs to be a little bit lower.

Working with a nutrition coach is really the best way to dial that in in a way that's going to work best for you. If you're doing this on your own test something out for a few weeks. Really check your progress. I always recommend some visual checks, photos are a great way to check your progress, circumference measurements. I actually don't really advocate using the scale for progress in these areas because that can be very deceptive. Really tweaking those and making changes maybe every two to three weeks is a good way to dial that in.

Dave: That's interesting, I've never heard it talked about in the levers concept before and I really like that idea. I'm going to throw in some numbers here and you can tell me what you think about this. Traditionally, I'd say that people look for a ratio of something around 60% carbs, 30 or 40% protein and then the remainder fat. I'd say that's kind of roughly a typical ratio. What do you think of that?

Heather: I think that could just depend on your body type and your exercise level. If you're really doing a high amount of cardiovascular exercise and you need a little bit extra carbs that could work. I would probably shift down the carbs just a bit there and maybe up the protein just a bit. Again, this is so dependent on that person and what their exercise maybe all ready looks like to make sure that you are getting enough fuel for the activities that you're doing as well.

Dave: Yeah, totally. I by no means am trying to get you to say, "This is the one." Because I agree with you, that's just for people who are ... Maybe this is all new to them, just an idea of where it could start. Somewhere around there, like you said. Play with those levers and test, test, test, test, test. Can not say that enough you've got to test it out.

Heather: Absolutely. The other thing that we might add to people who are trying to figure out this for themselves is the other concept that I like to teach people is just thinking about nutrient timing and how we talked about those starchy carbs versus fruits and vegetables.

I like to have people put most of those starchy carbs right after a workout because that's when your body's going to be most able to process those and put them into the body effectively and really use all those nutrients.

That might be another way, again, even before getting into those numbers, am I getting those exact precise percentages, really just starting to look at that plate layout and timing, when they're eating those starchy carbs. For the most part, those are going to help people make a lot of great progress.

Is Tracking Calories Worth the Effort?

Dave: I love that you just said that. Actually, I just wrote an article that was talking about nutrient timing around workouts and the misconception is that after you workout what do you need to eat? Protein. Everyone thinks, oh just had my protein shake. It's 100% protein and no carbs. But that glycogen, our body is deficient or is lacking, and we just burned up all this energy we need to have it replenished. So I love the fact that you talked about that.

What would you say, again talking for people who like to track things. I know I get a lot of questions about calories and how many calories I should be eating. Would you say for someone who wants to track numbers; tracking calories, tracking macros, which would you say is more important?

Heather: I definitely don't focus on calories. Because calories can be very deceptive. The way that they're put on those packages, so when you're reading a label and you're looking at the calorie splits can be very inaccurate and it can completely skew those numbers. I believe I've read it can be up to 150% more calories than it is on the package, or 50% less. Just depending on how it's measured and how it's manufactured.

I don't focus so much on calories, I definitely would opt for someone to think about those macros. Whether we talk about it visually like that plate picture or you count the percentages I think most people will find better results in that way. It's also going to help to make sure that you're focusing on the quality of the food versus just what that number says. Which is also so important because your body is going to process two different foods with the exact same calories in a different way.

I think the example that I've used most often is a piece of white bread topped with cheese whiz or something like that. Even if you have another piece of bread that's nice whole grain, like an Ezekiel bread with a nut butter on top and you have the exact same calorie count in both of those options; if you eat the one, the white bread with the cheese whiz, your body's going to break that down super fast because it's very simple, not nutrient dense.

It's not actually going to burn any other calories in that digestion process. If you eat that more nutrient dense option your body's actually going to burn more calories even just eating it. So the net result is totally different.

When you just focus on those calories, foods just aren't created equal in the way your body processes them aren't created equal, and you're going to see very different results.

Dave: You raise an interesting point there because you can put together a meal that is perfectly balanced for whatever macros you're trying to hit, and the same thing it could be completely void of any nutrient value at all.

Heather: I actually wrote an article about this last year and I still get a little flack about it sometimes. I titled it, "The Problem with, if it Fits Your Macros". It's kind of funny because it's kind of the approach that I follow but with again, that nutrient quality as being the forefront.

I think the problem if you only focus on macros, or you only focus on calories and you don't really think about the value of what you're eating and making nutrition and health the most important part of it, you can make some really silly decisions that when you really think through it is probably not going to be healthy for anyone.

Pop tarts seem to be the most popular thing you see in the approach for some reason. The occasional Pop tart is fine but it probably shouldn't be a foundational food that you have in your diet every day.

Make Your Body Work Takeaway

Dave: Agreed. There's our take away for today. Don't eat Pop tarts every single day. What would you say, we do like to wrap up this show with a Make Your Body Work takeaway and that's just something that's really practical that people can start with today. For someone like Amy, she's looking to make a change in her diet, she wants to lose some weight. Where should she start? Whether it's macro based or not.

Heather: I actually can offer, if we get back down to the numbers. If you really are going to track those, like I said I've done that a lot if I'm really trying to dial in my plan. I actually have a free template on my website, it's called a meal planning with macros template. It's just a simple Excel spreadsheet that I created for myself over a couple of years of training to help me to layout what does my meal plan look like, and help to put it within my macro nutrient goals.

With the caveat I want you to make sure you're making good nutrient decisions. I'd love for you guys to go grab a free copy of that. It's been very helpful, it's been one of the top resources for my audience for a couple of years now. You can grab that over at

Dave: I'll put a link in the show notes. For any of the listeners, if you go to This is the forty-third episode and on the link to that you can grab that template. Then like we talked about, start tracking, start experimenting. See how your body reacts or how it thrives on these different macro ratios.

Heather, just want to say thanks again for joining us today. I know you and I could probably chat for a lot longer about macros and proper nutrition. You really brought some very good practical insight and I think you answered Amy's question perfectly. So thanks very much for your time today.

Heather: Absolutely, I really enjoyed being here.

Dave: Thanks again Heather for joining us on the show today and thanks for your wisdom. I really appreciate your approach to the idea that there's not a one size fits all diet. That's so key.

Listeners out there, if you hear someone saying this is the diet that can solve everyone's weight problems or everyone's health problems, run away. That is simply not true. Heather I think you did a really good job of pointing that out, it's all about experimentation. It's all about playing with your macros, playing with the types of foods that you're eating. Figuring out what works for you. So thanks for that wisdom.

Thanks to you the listener for tuning in. Like I said at the top of the show, experimentation is so key and maybe this idea of tweaking your diet or starting to play with different variables so your diet is what you need to start to see that weight come off or start to see those changes that you're looking for.

If you'd like some help with that I'd love to be your coach. I run a program called the 10 in 4 challenge and this is exactly what we do. We dial in our diets, we try and find those food combinations, those different macro combinations that are going to work for you. You can learn more about the 10 in 4 challenge at Or, feel free to email me anytime,

Thanks again for joining me today and I can't wait to see you here again next week.

Thanks for joining me today!

Beate Probst - May 26, 2016

I love it, it teaches me to adjust my diet according to my active life style and not the other way around adjusting my activity to my diet. Completely getting away from the diet foods, thank you Heather and thank you Dave….and again, great resources.

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